Putin Is Time's Person of The Year

President Vladimir Putin was named Time magazine's person of the year on Wednesday, becoming the first Russian to win the title since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did it twice in the late 1980s.

"Putin has put his country back on the map," Time managing editor Richard Stengel wrote on the U.S. magazine's web site.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was "really satisfied" with the title.

"It is very good news for us," Peskov told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday evening. "We treat it as an acknowledgement of the role that was played by President Putin in helping to pull Russia out of the economic and social troubles of the 1990s, and restoring national pride in this country."

But Stengel stressed that being chosen person of the year was "not an endorsement" and "not a popularity contest" and that Time chose individuals who had made the biggest impact on world events, "for better or for worse."

Previous winners have included Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In the past decade, U.S. President George W. Bush has won twice. Last year Time chose "You," saying that ordinary people control the Information Age.

In a profile accompanying its choice of Putin, Time noted that Russia's economy had grown an average of 7 percent yearly for the past half-decade and that Moscow had repaid a foreign debt of nearly $200 billion. But it also described Putin as "humorless" and highlighted his curtailment of democratic freedoms.

"Putin is not a boy scout," Stengel wrote. "He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech. He stands, above all, for stability ... in a country that has hardly seen it for 100 years."

State-controlled television featured the news prominently on Wednesday but did not mention what Time called the "dark side" of Putin's presidency.

They also broadcast outtakes of a two-hour interview that Putin gave to Time on topics ranging from his taste in music to his attitude toward the West.

"They keep telling us, we are waiting for you, we want you to join the family, our civilized Western family," Putin said. "But first of all, who says that your civilization is the best?"

Putin allies praised the choice.

"This is pleasing and absolutely deserved," Andrei Vorobyov, head of United Russia's executive committee, said by telephone. "And I believe that most Russian citizens would have also put their names to it."

Kremlin-connected analyst Sergei Markov said the choice amounted to a tacit endorsement of Putin's policies.

"This vote vividly illustrates the contradictions in the West's attitude toward Russia," Markov said. "On the one hand, he is criticized, but on the other hand, everybody, even his critics, understand that he is doing everything right. Putin is restoring the country gradually. You can't jump into democracy."

Opposition leaders agreed Putin had been a newsmaker but accused him of oppressing rival political parties, rigging the recent State Duma elections and ignoring the needs of ordinary people.

"Living conditions are not improving, prices are rising and you can see yourself what is happening with the opposition," said Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Red Youth Vanguard. "I believe that Putin can be named an antihero of the year."

Nikita Belykh, leader of the Union of Right Forces party, took issue with Time's assertion that Putin was a major factor in Russia's economic revival.

"It is not really hard to secure economic stability in a country where the price of a barrel of oil breaks $90 and where most of the income comes from oil," Belykh said.

This is not the first time that Time has chosen the leader of an oil-producing nation during a period of high oil prices. In 1974, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia took the honor.

Graham Allison, director of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said Putin's achievements appeared inflated because they were inevitably compared to the ruin of the Yeltsin years.

"Having inherited a report card with three Ds and produced three As, it is not surprising that he has higher favorability ratings among his fellow citizens than any other leader in the world," Allison wrote in e-mailed comments.

The person of the year title has been given out since 1927, although it used to be called man of the year.

Besides Putin, Stalin and Gorbachev, other Russians who have won the title include Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Yury Andropov, who took it in 1957 and 1983, respectively. Andropov shared the title with Reagan.

This year, Putin beat several other candidates, including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and British author J.K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter saga. Stengel said on NBC's "Today" show that Gore had finished second in the opinion of Time's editors, while Rowling had finished third.

The others who didn't make the cut were Chinese leader Hu Jintao, confrontational Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and U.S. General David Petraeus, leader of the Iraq surge.

Staff Writer Simon Saradzhyan contributed to this report.